Sources and references for more information:
General information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Noses
Some of the noses are placed in quite open locations, so caution is advised as traffic in London won’t slow up so you can see the nose.
Also, whilst Soho has gone through considerable gentrification over the years, there are still remnants of the past in place. Very young people might ask questions you won’t want to answer until they’re older.
As part of a protest against the growing numbers of CCTV cameras around London, the artist Rick Buckley made plaster reproductions of his own nose and placed them around the capital close to or under a CCTV. There was no publicity to his action. It was only in 2001 after pressure from his girlfriend that he came clean and admitted what he had done. What was interesting was that of the 35 he put up, only about six or seven now remain – and that in at least one case a myth now surrounds it.
Using the Walking guide in the above link, I managed to track down the noses – well, sort of. I set my GPS tracker when I began and allowing for walking up and down the streets a few times it was about 3.5 miles. Rather than just reproduce the walking link, I’ll also add a few more tidbits of the area along the way.
I started the walk at Admiralty Arch, built in 1912 and was the residence of the First Sea Lord, which included Lord Mountbatten. It was also a government building until 2016 when it was sold to become a hotel, scheduled for opening in 2020. If you face the arch, looking towards Buckingham Palace, the nose is in the vehicle arch on the right. If you take the right most footpath, you can see it – it’s about 10 feet off the ground. Interestingly, the myth for this nose has suggested that this is in fact Nelson’s spare nose in case his falls off!
Now, you could probably write a book about the interesting facts in and around Trafalgar square, which is just behind you – and where you will walk past on your way to the next nose.
As well as Nelson’s fleet on the top of the lamps (this also ‘floats’ down the Mall too), in the North East corner are the recesses for the official imperial measurements (which are now housed elsewhere in a very temperature-controlled environment), the smallest police station (as was, now a cleaners office), the Landseer Lions (whose paws are actually those of a domestic cat as Landseer had never seen a lion!), I also noted the green walking lights at the crossing have some inclusive symbols – these were changed in 2016 and have remained ever since. And this is where all of routes to London are measured from… not the Square Mile of London which is a few miles up the road.
The next stop is by Piccadilly Circus. You can either walk up Haymarket, which is direct, or go through Leicester Square, past the statue of Charlie Chaplin, the Swiss Bell (and time it right and you can be there for 15 minutes as it cycles through the bell chimes!)
Piccadilly circus was created in 1819, with the Shaftesbury Monument being installed in 1893. Although all the signposts indicate the figure at the top of the monument is Eros, it is in fact Anteros, the Greek god of requited love, whereas Eros is all about the desire.
The large advertising boards have been there in some format since 1908 (which was a sign for Perrier), but more recently the display was replaced in 2017 with the new digital screen.
Our second nose is at this end of Great Windmill Street. Again, this is road side, so caution should be exercised.
After this one, I headed up to Meard Street. I headed up to Wardour Street, in particular to the Soho Lofts. Back in 1964 until 1988 this was the Marquee Club, home to residencies of such bands as The Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, the Yardbirds and The Who – with a link back to Harrow in that the public house The Railway Tavern was featured on the back of one of their album sleeves (and whilst the pub burned down, the flats that now occupy the space have Who name references). Interestingly perhaps, given that so many famous bands have played there, there is only one blue plaque on the property to the fact that Keith Moon played there:
Anyways, onto Meard Street. Through French and Italian translations this street appears on many postcards. When I walked down the road, No 7 was boarded over – a shame as this was the house of Sebastian Horsley which had an interesting sign on the door. I wonder if the sign will be there when the hoardings go.
The nose on this street is not one of Buckley’s, but it is a “Soho nose”. Depending on source it was either as part of a bigger installation, or through an argument over land… but there’s no de facto source and as we found with “Nelson’s nose” what’s to stop a good myth?
From Meard Street we turn onto Dean Street. I’ll put a note here that I don’t think I found “THE” nose, but “A” nose. I’ll have to head back to see if I can find the Buckley nose – from everything I’ve read I was in the right place, but the smaller noses are quite challenging to see as they are often painted to match their surroundings. The walking notes talked about Quo Vadis, and that the nose was next to a strip club. However, next to Quo Vadis is a club called The Sunset Strip and above it I saw a nose – so took the photos and moved on. I guess that’s the fun of this tour – and of London – is that once you get your eye to look for the unusual there is SO MUCH that is then visible!
From there I headed to Bateman Street. Walk past the Dog and Duck pub. Originally placed on the site in 1734, the current building has been there since 1897 and was a haunt for Constable and George Orwell amongst others. The nose is a little further down the road, on the other side – my Google Map had a marker stating “Milkbar”.
My last nose was a bit of stroll away to Endell Street, which is it at the far end of Shaftesbury Avenue and close to Covent Garden. To save you walking up and down Endell Street trying to work out where it is, the place you are looking for is the Paragon Service Point, which is just opposite the Craft Beer Company’s pub.
Whether you walk directly down Shaftesbury Avenue, or detour through to the Seven Dials, there is plenty to see and do around here – the Seven Dials area was laid out in the early 1690s as a series of triangles as this would maximise the number of properties that could be built as rents at that time were charged by frontage, not interiors! Unfortunately, it didn’t attract the fashionable as hoped and became a slum with many gin parlours. Indeed, at one point all the of the seven apexes facing the monument was a public house!
If you’ve been counting through this walk, you will note that I have only listed six noses (although there is that possibility of two in Dean Street). There was supposed to be a nose in D’Arblay Street, making the seven, but all the sources I have read have not found it – and I didn’t fancy just wandering aimlessly in the hope of striking gold.
But the walk doesn’t end here for me. Following from the infamous success of the noses (Buckley has never released details of where all the noses were placed, so there may still be more around London), Tim Fishlock decided to do something similar, and using the idea that “walls have ears” dotted some of those around London too. There are two in Covent Garden’s Floral Street almost opposite each other. From the TfL Covent Garden Underground station walk toward the Covent Garden market area. Take the first turning on the right (by the White Lion pub). The first ear will be on your left by the Ted Baker shop, the second almost opposite by the Tintin shop.
I don’t know why it caught my eye, but looking down having taken the picture of the second ear I saw a plug and socket on the floor. It was clearly a “normal” indoor set up… but with no wires from the plug I had a closer look – perhaps there are more of these around London too!
This was a fun walk round London. From pretty much any of the noses there is so much to explore and so much history to be enjoyed – but similarly with no formalised documentation about the noses, ears and power points I can’t say “I’ve found them all” – indeed I know that there’s a possibility that I walked by one on this route!
What was interesting to me was that as I took the photo of the ear by the Ted Baker shop, the owner was locking up and asked what I was doing. I told him – then had to point it out to him. He’d been there nearly 2 years and hadn’t seen it!